Arun J. Sanyal, MD, FAASLD, is this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award. Dr. Arun Sanyal, professor at Virgina Commonwealth University, has developed, mediated and encouraged liver research globally as a physician-scientist for 25 years. His research has focused on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and the complications of end-stage liver disease with a particular focus on the translation of scientific discovery towards development of better diagnostics and therapeutics for patients with liver disease. He has published 398 scholarly papers with a Hirsch index of 100 and has been continuously funded by the National Institutes of Health for 24 years.
Dr. Sanyal has chaired the hepatobiliary study section of the NIH and leads the NIDDK NASH Clinical Research Network and the FNIH NIMBLE consortium. He has served as President of the AASLD and led the development of the core curriculum for training in hepatology that served as the foundation for establishment of national standards in training. By creation of the Liver Forum, he has also accelerated development of therapeutics for NASH globally. His work and leadership has been recognized by several awards and earlier this year received the Virginia Outstanding Scientist Award for his deep commitment to the betterment of human health globally via science, education and policy. He recently shared with The Liver Meeting® Today the greatest influences on his career in hepatology.
LMT: Who is the person who has had the greatest impact on your career?
Dr. Sanyal: I would have to say that my mentor Dr Edward Moore probably had the biggest impact on my career simply because he inspired me and ignited a passion for scientific discovery, which has carried me through my entire career.
LMT: What is the one thing that has had the greatest impact on your career? How did this influence or affect your career/life?
Dr. SanyaI: It was almost like a random event. Another mentor, my chairman when I was just starting out as a faculty member, called me into his office and just stated that he thought I should do hepatology full time instead of being a GI and a hepatology person. It was really sort of a fork in the road. Back in the ‘80s, there weren’t that many people who were doing pure hepatology. Most people who finished the gastroenterology fellowship spent their time split between gastroenterology and hepatology, and he pretty much made an executive decision that I should focus entirely on hepatology. The rest of my career path was contingent on making that turn. I had no specific reason to pick hepatology. In fact, I was terrified of hepatology as a resident, because there were so few treatments available for people with liver disease, and people with liver disease basically came to the hospital to die. Of course now I can look back and say we’ve completely changed that over the course of my career, and hopefully I’ve had a small impact along the way.
LMT: Where is the place that has had the greatest impact on your career? How has this place influenced you?
Dr. Sanyal: It’s clearly Virginia Commonwealth University, where I work. I came here as a fellow and never left, and that’s because it’s such an amazing environment. The division of gastroenterology is a microcosm within that larger environment, which fosters collegiality, intellectual growth, the willingness to take on challenges that nobody else would take on it and push the boundaries and celebrate each other’s victories. So it’s been my playground for 30 years.
LMT: Why liver? What is it about hepatology that has continued to motivate and inspire you?
Dr. Sanyal: One is the successes because success builds success. But also it’s the patients themselves. People with liver disease are often cast aside by society and medical systems because of the stigma associated with liver disease. Back in the day people would be called alcoholics even when they weren’t. If somebody had hepatitis C, it would be an immediate assumption that they are some sort of junky. The fact is that these diseases cut across every segment of society, and now with fatty liver disease, people are judgmental. They think, oh, these are just lazy fat people, and that’s not true either. Patients are the greatest motivation for continuing to do what we do. It really has been an amazing journey because whereas when I was a fellow, I would just dread the next liver patient who came in because there was nothing to offer and just watch them die. Now we have so much to offer with so much hope with keeping people alive who 20 years ago would have died for sure. We keep them alive, we get them to transplant, we get them through transplant and then years later they are watching their grandkids graduate from high school, and get married. It’s very rewarding.
It has also helped that my entire career span has spanned a period in hepatology where there has been this extraordinary explosion of science which has been translated into therapeutics. Not only do we have many choices for our patients, but we’ve actually played a role in developing those choices and the possibilities keep expanding at an incredible pace. If I had one regret it is that I’m in the fourth quarter of my career and not the first quarter. There’s so much you can do now.
Dr. Sanyal will be recognized on Monday at 9:30 am in Hall D of Moscone North/South.